After a couple of days doing nothing at the beach at El Gigante, I decided it was time to move on. Neither John, my host, nor the surroundings made me have that impression, but, if I had stayed longer, I wouldn’t have had the time to go to Ometepe and so many people have told me it’s their favourite place in Nicaragua so I didn’t want to miss it.
I don’t know why, maybe because I knew it was such a short ride for the day, but I had a very relaxed calm over me for the whole day. The 9.5km of dirt road, which had frustrated me at times on the way to the beach seemed to almost fly by. I’d be riding along and get to a part, remembering that it was some part I hadn’t liked, and then ride through it and wonder why I’d had problems with it. That happened on several occasions, but really it was a lovely piece of dirt road, as far as dirt roads go, for the most part.
I made my way through town, stopping off for some uninspired eggs, and got to the ferry terminal with plenty of time to spare. The main ferry left at 10:30, but one that cost almost half the price (65C instead of 110C) left at 11am so I waited for it. Apparently it was slightly less comfortable, but I found a bench and was asleep for nearly the whole crossing, which lasted just over an hour. I got dropped off in Moyogalpa, on the western side of the island, and wandered round. Other than a large group of motorbikers who went through being noisy with police escorts, there was almost no traffic. I went to the church and then sat in the park relaxing until my break was disturbed by a torrent of rain during which I got to take shelter under an awning.
I’d heard of three things to do on the island, and the first was go to a beach just south of Moyogalpa. There’s a sandbar that stretches into the lake apparently making a great place to swim. Even though it was a Saturday, there was almost nobody there. The skies that would make England look sunny probably had something to do with that, especially as it started to rain again while I was at the beach. I found that the lake water was actually a good amount warmer than the rain, so I got in and attempted to go swimming, but the bar was quite wide and the nearby water wasn’t even knee-deep so I just laid back and floated, enjoying the spectacle of the rain crashing onto the lake’s surface.
When I was kind of dry I continued on my way around the island, and spoke to some interesting locals, including one family to whom I jokingly offered my bike to let them ride up the hill. One of the guys took me up and tried to pedal but only got about 2 metres before almost falling off due to not only my bike’s weight but also it’s size.
After a relaxing 25km I made it to Altagracia, had dinner of gallo pinto and then looked for a place to stay. Hotels only cost about $5 and I nearly decided to pay, but instead went to the police station a few blocks away from the main square. They directed me back to the main square saying I should ask the police officers on duty there. I did so and was told that I could throw my tent up next to the kiosk, which being a Saturday night didn’t sound the best option but I wasn’t going to argue.
The policeman wandered away and I sat down to read my book. His colleague came back a bit later and told me that staying there really wouldn’t be the best idea as even with the police it was a little dangerous. He suggested a church on the corner who would be able to help me out so I thanked him and rolled over there. The priest was giving a service, which meant I got to read for about an hour more, before organising things and getting permission to stay.
Even though I was awake just after 5am, I didn’t leave the church until about 10am as the rain had been falling nearly consistently, one of the down sides of the rainy season, but at least I was not only under a roof but also had wifi, because what church wouldn’t? Exactly. The other two things on the must-do-in-Ometepe list, the volcanoes are nearly always covered in cloud at the top so not that strongly recommended, were to go to Ojo de Agua and to see some petroglyphs. Reading about Ojo de Agua more made it sound like it had lost any of the charm it used to have and is now basically a swimming pool where they charge you $4 to go swimming, so I set off on a mission to see some petroglyphs.
I asked a local in the main square who told me that there was a place over near Santa Cruz that was the best place to go. His family had been living on the island for countless generations and he was very proud of his heritage. He had a collection of drawings of the petroglyphs in the little stand where he sold some crafts and enthusiastically explained them to me.
I rode in the direction of Santa Cruz and it was as wonderful as the ride the day before. The lack of traffic, the fair number of locals cycling round and the pretty views easily made it my favourite place in Nicaragua, and one of my highlights up to now in Central America. I stopped at a small comedor for breakfast and asked what they had. Even though they said they had nothing, they meant they had no rice, and so when I suggested eggs and plantain they realised they could make that. I don’t know what they did, but it was some of the best eggs I’ve eaten on this trip, and I’ve eaten a lot of plates of eggs! Maybe it was the fresh eggs, the dirt floor in the comedor or something secret they did to the eggs, but I’d order them again in a heartbeat.
A while later, I got to the plantation where the petroglyphs were located. It was up a steep poorly paved hill, but I was excited to see them, at least until I saw them. They just made me think of the stelae that I had seen in plenty of Mayan sites, but much smaller and really not that inspiring. I actually think that the guy’s pictures in Altagracia, and especially his stories, gave me a better appreciation of them than the actual stones.
It was time to ride back to the ferry, although I’d be taking one from a different port to save riding 10km. It was also meant to be, and turned out to be, more comfortable. It was larger, and the benches were padded so much nicer than the steel ones on the other boat.
I got off the boat about an hour before the sunset and decided that instead of going to ask the firefighters, whose station I’d scoped out the day before, I’d ride towards the border assuming I’d find something. I did find something, lots of wind turbines and a headwind to blow them along, as well as a few locals to ride with. While I was riding with them, I went past several promising looking places and after they left me I was starting to get a little concerned. The only light was from the fireflies that were flashing along the side of the road and there was next to nothing in the way of buildings.
I was thinking I’d have to go to the border town of Sapoa when I saw a farmhouse with a light on. I stood by the fence and shouted BUENAS NOCHES a good few times until the owner came out. I then walked in with my torch illuminating my face so she could see me before explaining my story. She didn’t own the house, she was just working for the owner of the ranch, and so made a phone call. The owner turned up, spoke to me for a couple of minutes, commented on how I could speak Spanish and said I could stay there. I put my tent up and was invited in for dinner and to watch some terrible movie on TV. I watched for a while before making my excuses and going to sleep thankful for another bit of good fortune.
Boat to Ometepe
360 degree view from San Jose
Just the two volcanoes